Ind. responders ready to help Harvey victims

"We have our bags and suitcases packed and we're ready to go at a moment's notice," private EMS agency owner Ron Donahue said

By Javonte Anderson 

VALPARAISO, Ind. — Days after Hurricane Harvey swept into Texas with pounding rains and catastrophic flooding, Northwest Indiana emergency responders and service organizations are gearing up to provide assistance to the thousands of people suffering from its damage.

"We have our bags and suitcases packed and we're ready to go at a moment's notice," said Ron Donahue, owner of inHealth, a private ambulance service in Valparaiso, LaPorte and South Bend. "We have a few ambulances on standby and we have quite a few of our staff members ready," he said.

Harvey, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, struck central Texas and Houston's metropolitan area over the weekend forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes, destroying many homes and businesses and claiming the lives of several people.

The Northwest Indiana chapter of American Red Cross sent an emergency response vehicle to the Houston metro area on Saturday, said Beverly Wright-Thames, disaster program specialist for the chapter. The vehicle will be primarily responsible for mobile feeding and providing food, water and toiletries to displaced people and first responders.

The chapter has also already sent a few volunteers to Texas, with more preparing to fly out in the next 24 hours, she said.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which coordinates disaster support with agencies throughout the state, has not yet sent resources to Texas, Homeland Security officials said.

But state officials have been alerted and are on standby.

"At some point, the response teams that are down there are going to get exhausted and that's when they start sending in resources from other states," said Gary McKay, logistics section chief and liaison officer for the IDHS District 1 Task Force.

McKay said IDHS is prepared to deploy probably 40 or 50 people from across the state.

"Right now all of our task force teams within Indiana are on standby," he said.

The IDHS task force is comprised of police officers, firefighters, hospital personnel, mental heath professionals and people ranging from several other professions, McKay said.

Thus far, the only unit deployed to Texas for relief efforts has been a homeland security swift water rescue team that is trained to rescue people from flooding waters out of northern Indiana, he said.

If deployed, Donahue said his team would likely assist in evacuation efforts, helping patients in nursing homes and hospitals relocate to other facilities.

As images and video footage circulate showing the extent of the damage caused by Harvey—destroyed homes, people wading through waist-deep water, and trees and toppled light poles—both Donahue and McKay said they are eager to get to Texas and lend their support.

"We're ready. All of our assets throughout Indiana are pretty much ready to go. We're ready to get down there and help people," McKay said.

"Whether or not we go, it would be great to go, our people are prepared," Donahue said. "We've gone through this training of what it takes to get through this disaster so we're always ready."

Wright-Thames said she does not know how long the Northwest Indiana American Red Cross unit will be in Texas.

"This will be an ongoing process and an ongoing relief operation because of the devastation and the magnitude of this, so we'll be out there helping for an extended period of time."

Copyright 2017 Post-Tribune

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